May 26, 2009

Interview with Fred Jackson III

Today's My Fair Ladies in Broadway is our second Fred Jackson III puzzle since the LAT switch. Fred comments here on the blog occasionally and has provided valuable insights on the grid from a constructor's point of view.

Since Jan 2002, LA Times has published 25 of Fred's puzzles. He has also sold his work to Chicago Tribune, USA Today, New York Sun, Universal Crosswords, Games Magazine and Simon & Schuster Mega Crossword Puzzle Book.

It's enlightening to see how Fred worked out the 4 theme entries. And I love his answers on puzzle theme inspirations. Even if the universe provides me with similar gift in the middle of the night, I doubt I will get up and write it down. Too lazy.

How did today's theme come to you? And which theme answers/fills gave you the most trouble during construction?

I decided to do a theme based on the titles of Broadway shows, but I need a hook to tie them all together. I found a list of Broadway shows and noticed that several shows had a woman's name in the title. I said to myself "there's my hook!". I compiled a list of shows with women's names in the title somewhere and began the process of weeding them out until I came up with a workable set of theme answers. I don't remember any problems creating the fill, but this puzzle was originally submitted back in early February and now it's the end of May so a lot of small details are fuzzy.

Rich Norris liked the theme, but suggested I go one step further and only use titles where the women's names came at the end of the show title. So I had to throw out about half of my answers, such as "Irma La Douce". The new theme answers did not fit in with the original fill so I threw out 100% of the original fill and started over. Everything then had to be reclued and I sent off the revisions to Rich, which he accepted.

What is the most unforgettable puzzle you've constructed? What's the theme and why is it so special?

When I look back over my published puzzles I just see ways I could have done them better. I constantly work at improving my craft and what I'm doing now is usually an improvement over what I've done in the past. When I look at other constructor's puzzles I never see poor clueing or poor word choices like some others do. I look for what I can learn from that constructor's puzzle to improve myself. I just see the positive. My goal is too constantly get better and try new things. And Rich Norris has helped me greatly in improving my craft and I thank him for it.

Where do you get your puzzle inspirations? What kind of books/ magazines do you read?

Sometimes they come to me unbidden in the middle of the night as I am falling asleep. I get up immediately and write them down. Those usually always sell. I consider them a gift from the universe as I had nothing to do with thinking them up. It still takes a lot of work to develop them into a finished product. At times my wife, Martha, will present me with a good theme idea which I am able to convert into sales. My wife is very supportive of my hobby. I also get new theme ideas by going over old crossword puzzles or leafing through a dictionary. I call this priming the pump because it puts my mind in puzzle mode and new ideas eventually spring forth. I very seldom get an idea if I'm casually reading a non-puzzle related book or magazine for pleasure.

Who are your favorite constructors and why? Who gives you the most trouble?

I like the same names everyone else mentions when asked this question. I also like Ray Hamel, Lynn Lempel, Randall J. Hartman, Doug Peterson, Jack McInturff, and Alan Olschwang. I like puzzles that are fun to do and have a humorous element. Alan Olschwang always gives me a bit of trouble with his clever clueing and great fill words.

What is your background? What else do you do for fun?

I've been married to Martha for 37 years. We have two grown sons, Chris and Darren. I'm a retired sign maker for a city in Michigan.

For fun I like to go places with my wife, like going to museums, restaurants, or vacation trips. I like to listen to classical music, jazz, and classic rock. I like to read a lot, mostly science fiction. I collect old-time-radio shows from the 1930s and 40s, such as The Shadow, The Green Hornet, Jack Benny and Gunsmoke (it started out as a radio show before it went to TV). I collect movie serials from the 1930s and 1940s. I also love to watch baseball and football on TV. Go Detroit Tigers!

9 comments:

Dennis said...

C.C., Fred, great interview. I really enjoy these insights into a puzzle's construction, and where the ideas for new ones originate.

I loved those old radio shows too; my favorite from that era was 'Gangbusters'.

C. C. said...

Dennis,
Yeah, it's really wonderful to get a behind-the-scene peep at Fred's construction process. Who knows he went through so much trouble to come up with four seemingly random musicals?

Lemonade714 said...

It is fascinating to me how many different creative people have inspiration when they are falling asleep. We have had the comment from other constructors, and I have seen fiction authors, poets, movie makers, songwriters all say the same thing. Are they puzzle makers who began when they were young?
Thank you both.

Anonymous said...

Fred, how long did it take to complete this puzzle?

CK

SandbridgeKaren said...

Fred - keep 'em coming. Love your themes and cluing - always great to open the paper and see your name as constructor!

Fred said...

CK
I usually construct a puzzle in one to two days. I don't count developing the theme idea in this time period as I might be working on several different themes at once. Often , bits and pieces of themes come together over several days, weeks, or months. I just sold a puzzle where I got the first theme answer last Fall but didn't come up with the rest of the theme answers until last month.

Crockett1947 said...

C.C> and Fred, thank you for a great "behind the scenes" interview.

KittyB said...

Fred, it's a pleasure to hear how you go about creating puzzles.

C.C., thanks for another great interview.

JD said...

"I just see the positive."

Fred, that is such an admirable quality. Thanks for such an informative interview,CC. The more I read about puzzle making/makers the more fun it is for me to work these tiny gifts of pleasure.